Calgary Flames ’ Elias Lindholm (28) is stopped by Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Cam Talbot (33) as Johnny Gaudreau (13) looks for the loose puck during third period NHL preseason action in Edmonton on Saturday September 29, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Canadian sports fans win as longtime broadcast rivals force raised game

Five of the seven Canadian NHL teams could reach the playoffs this spring

The way the NHL regular season is shaping up, it’s a good bet that five of the seven Canadian teams could reach the playoffs this spring.

That’s the kind of playoff CanCon that Rogers was hoping for when it signed a massive US$5.2-billion, 12-year deal to land the league’s broadcasting rights in 2013, a move that gave Sportsnet an immediate edge in its long-running rivalry with TSN.

After some early challenges, Rogers is set to get more bang for its buck as more teams from north of the border move into contention.

“Rogers gambled that Canadian teams would be coming back,” said sports marketing expert Richard Powers, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “When they signed that deal, Canadian teams were really in a lull.

“They have come back.”

READ MORE: Vancouver Canucks looking to build rivalry with new Seattle hockey team

The partnership between the media giant and the league was announced in November 2013 and the deal kicked in for the 2014-15 season. Five Canadian teams made the playoffs that spring, but three crashed out in the first round and the others were eliminated in Round 2.

The worst-case scenario for Rogers arrived a year later as Canadian teams were shut out of the post-season. Five teams made the cut in 2017 but three were eliminated in the opening round, with the Ottawa Senators making it to the conference final.

Last spring, only Winnipeg and Toronto reached the post-season. The Maple Leafs made a first-round exit while the Jets were eliminated in the conference final.

“The length of that deal was extraordinary and the amount that they paid was extraordinary,” Powers said. “I think they’re actually leveraging it quite well. I don’t know what else they can do. Everybody knows it’s Rogers.”

Sportsnet, which is part of Rogers Media, bills itself as Canada’s No. 1 sports media brand. The network’s main rival since its inception in 1998 has been TSN, which calls itself Canada’s sports leader, and is a division of Bell Media.

The sports media landscape had a much different look two decades ago. Nowadays, each network boasts multiple feeds, online and mobile viewing options, and an impressive lineup of marquee international properties.

In addition to hockey, some of Sportsnet’s domestic offerings include the Toronto Blue Jays/the majority of MLB (the Blue Jays are owned by Rogers), the Grand Slam of Curling and the Canadian Hockey League. TSN’s lineup includes some regional NHL games along with the Canadian Football League, world junior hockey championship and the Season of Champions curling events.

“I think (the rivalry is) great for consumers and for viewers,” Powers said. “It keeps both teams, at each network, it keeps their eyes on the ball so to speak, no pun intended. They are looking for ways to beat the competition … so I think the ultimate winners are the fans and the viewers.”

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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